A brain area that makes us want to help other people

Humans can be altruistic, for example, working to benefit other people. We measured this kind of drive, “prosocial motivation”, by asking people to squeeze hard to earn money (Lockwood et al. Nature Human Behaviour 2024). The money would either go to themselves, or to someone else who they would never see or meet. Although healthy people prefer to earn money for themselves, they do still offer to earn for other people.

We studied patients who had damage to their orbitofrontal cortex: an area at the front of the brain. These patients were motivated to earn money for themselves, but much less so for other people.

We think that this area is important for prosocial motivation – perhaps it works out what other people feel or want.